Disclaimer: This is a happiness blog, but that does not mean every post is a happy one. Sometimes, to claim the life we want, and build a stable foundation, we need to make difficult decisions and do things that are counter-intuitive, because well, part of growing up is coming to terms with reality and reality can be a little bitter.
When I started my research on friendship I found lots of sound advice, fun bonding activities, and personality-matching trends. I did NOT, however, expect to find such a disconnect between how we treat friendships in our early twenties, mid-twenties, and late twenties. Understandably, amid all of our growth and change, we add new friends but no one likes to talk about the other end of that. The part where you lose friends that you thought were life-long.
Listen, friendship is complicated, maybe even more complicated than a romantic relationship because people set different expectations. But as I see it, both parties should be giving. Friendships should multiply the wonderful and divide the awful. Sounds simple, right? Then why does it take us so long to make the distinction between a good friendship and a bad one?
In our early twenties and before many friendships are determined by:
The convenience of our situation (We are in the same sorority, the same friends circle, the same team, we are roommates, etc.)
Our need to feel liked and popular (Our self-worth is largely attached to the opinions of others rather than of ourselves)
Our lack of outside pressures (We don’t have as many responsibilities, for a job, spouse, children, etc.)
You don’t think it’s weird when couples break-up, so why is a friendship breakup taboo?
Chances are, as you’re reading this you can think of at least ONE friend who is no longer helping you grow. If that is the case try doing these TWO things:
Ask yourself, what am I currently gaining from this friendship? (Hint: The answer needs to be more than “a trip down memory lane.”)
Decide if it is worth giving this person a chance to redeem themselves.
If so, write them a clear, honest, private note airing your grievances and stating that you need more. If not, just let go.
I believe in what I’m writing so I took the plunge on this one first. Here is my open letter to a friend that hasn’t been a friend for quite some time:
It’s not you. It’s me. No, really though. I’ve changed. A lot. Naturally, in my twenties I’ve grown up a bit. I moved away. I got married. I changed careers. I made new friends. But I never let any of this get in the way of our friendship.
Despite the distance, I would periodically reach out to see how you were doing. I would drop any and everything to be a shoulder for you to cry on, an ear for you to complain to, and a voice of support and advice. But you slowly stopped reciprocating.
I have changed, true. I now have more responsibility and new standards for my life. I am being more intentional about the people I surround myself with and also with my discretionary time. So, I have chosen to stop spending my time and energy defending you for being “a flake” and justifying your failure to reach out. I am choosing instead, to move forward.
I do not have unrealistic expectations for my friendships. Most of my friends live over 1000 miles away, and most lead busy lives. We don’t speak daily, sometimes not even monthly, but still I never question their commitment and loyalty to our friendship. I couldn’t place a finger on the difference, but now I realize.
“History” is not a good enough reason to keep a friend in my life. While I will always pee my pants thinking of our good times, and be grateful for your role in my early twenties, I don’t feel that you are currently giving me anything to be grateful for. Instead, I am constantly burdened by the hole that you once used to fill.
So I mean it when I say, “It’s not you. It’s me.” Your dedication to our friendship may never have extended past the convenience of our circumstances. I, however, have changed. I am no longer willing to compromise my time and energy without gaining something in return. So even though I am not one to hold grudges, and do hope that someday we may reconnect, for now I need to cut ties. Grown-up me realizes how precious my time and energy are, and they will be better spent on the situations I can control, rather than one I can’t.